Assemblywoman Carol “The Bear” Murphy clawed her way past a bid by the Republican mayor of Mount Laurel to move next year’s November partisan local election to a May non-partisan race to avoid being on the ballot with President Donald Trump.
Acting Gov. Sheila Oliver signed legislation today that would require local governments to get a super-majority of votes by the council to propose a referendum to move the next election.
The GOP-controlled council voted on June 24 by a 3-2 vote, along party lines. But the plan pushed by Mayor Kurt Folcher didn’t take effect for 20 days, allowing Murphy’s bill to supplant the local vote. The new law takes effect immediately.
This is a huge win for the freshman Democratic legislator in her hometown.
“Today is a victory for our democracy and protects the integrity of municipal elections in the State of New Jersey,” Murphy said. The decision to change the form of government is a serious choice for township residents to consider, and never should be subject to the whim of politicians seeking to game the system,” Murphy said.
The bill also changes the number of signatures needed to put the issue on the ballot from 10% to 25%.
All three Republican seats on the council are up in 2020, giving Democrats a clear shot at taking control of local government.
Trump lost Mount Laurel in 2016 by twenty points, with Hillary Clinton carrying the town by 4,280 votes, 60%-40%.
“I’m very appreciative of the support from legislative leadership, residents that had the courage to step forward in our effort to reform the system, and Governor Phil Murphy for his final approval today that puts an end to this misguided referendum in Mount Laurel Township,” said Murphy.
State Sen. Troy Singleton (D-Delran) helped Murphy pass the bill on the Senate side.
In the 2016 general election, 73% of Mount Laurel voters turned out to vote. In two other Burlington municipalities that held May non-partisan election, turnout was around 17%.
Last month in North Bergen, where more than $1 million was spent between the two slates in a non-partisan municipal election, turnout was at 34%.
Folcher’s move came at a time when many municipalities with non-partisan local elections have moved to November in a bid to increase voter turnout.